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JUNK MAIL

(15)

Director: Pal Sletaune

Starring: Robert Skjaerstad, Andrine Saether, Per Egil Aske

Postal workers are part of a rapidly diminishing species. Along with estate agents, cabbies and smokers, they are one of the last groups against whom it remains socially acceptable to be prejudiced. And a film like the Norwegian black comedy Junk Mail isn't going to find favour with the campaign for the promotion of postmen, if such a thing exists. It only perpetuates the notion that those who deliver our mail are zombies with no ethics and even less charisma - whose idea of good fashion sense is to allow just one inch of white towelling sock to show between hem and Hush Puppy.

The film's portrayal of the Oslo postal service is defamatory at best. The employees are scraggly layabouts, indivisible from the local tramps and thugs; they wear their hair in greasy slicks and have the dead, sleepless eyes of smack addicts. The film's main character ("hero" would be too positive a noun) is Roy (Robert Skjaerstad), a man dedicated to his job. Dedicated, that is, to opening other people's letters, breaking into their apartments and making no effort to disguise his contempt for his customers. But he also throws away all the circulars and junk mail that he can't be bothered to stuff through every letterbox on his round, which, in my books, very nearly redeems him.

One morning, Roy notices that one of the customers on his round, a deaf woman named Line (pronounced "Lena", and played by Andrine Saether) has left her keys behind. He steals into her flat, eavesdrops on a mysterious answerphone message and, before long, has deduced that she is involved in a robbery.

At this point, the director Pal Sletaune (who also co-wrote the screenplay) introduces a thriller element, but it still plays second fiddle to the grainy character study at the film's centre. Roy is a walking disaster; attacked by near-comatose muggers who want his bag of mail, he tries to hand it over but gets the strap caught and ends up in hospital for his clumsiness. And, once there, he wanders into a fellow patient's room and causes havoc with the man's respirator. But the brief glimpses of humanity - or, at least, naivety - in Skjaerstad's performance keeps you hooked; Roy is immaculately written, even at the expense of the other characters, who are rarely more than sketched.

The film has many crossover points with Jean-Jacques Beineix's thriller, Diva: the two pictures both feature postmen who develop fetishistic attachments to women, and both have nonsensical skulduggery bubbling away in their sub-plots. Near the end, Sletaune suddenly decides he isn't interested in making his film a thriller, and the picture simply fizzles out - which is a pity given that a confrontation in a men's washroom halfway through the movie is executed with a wit and precision that would have had Hitchcock hooting with joy.

However, Junk Mail has more than enough originality and invention to see it through. Watching this dog-end of a man bringing disgrace on to his profession, I couldn't help thinking how much more entertaining The Postman would have been if this reprehensible fellow had replaced Kevin Costner.

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